Pa. asks counties to replace voting systems by 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration told Pennsylvania's counties Thursday that he wants them to replace their electronic voting systems with machines that leave a verifiable paper trail by the end of 2019, although counties warned that the price tag is a major problem.

Counties estimate the cost will be $125 million and said the greatest single impediment to buying new voting machines is the lack of a funding source.

Wolf's administration said it believes it is possible for counties to update their machines by the November 2019 election and that it is working with counties to make it affordable.

"There's a lot of areas the state can weigh in to help make this something that is absolutely affordable for the counties," Wolf said Thursday.

That includes making financing available and negotiating a good deal on the machines, although Wolf said he had not gotten to the point yet of asking the Republican-controlled Legislature for money.

In February, Wolf ordered counties that planned to replace their electronic voting systems to buy machines that leave a paper trail, a safeguard against hacking.

The move followed September's disclosure by the federal government that election systems in at least 21 states, including Pennsylvania, were targeted by hackers before the 2016 presidential election. Only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its systems. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said there's no evidence that vote tallies or registration databases were altered.

"It's important because everybody needs to have confidence in the voting process and given what is alleged to have happened in 2016, I think there's some concern that maybe people aren't as confident as they should be," Wolf said.

The vast majority of Pennsylvania's fleet of more than 20,000 electronic voting machines leave no paper trail, according to a 2014 tally by state election officials.

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where most or all voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the vote, according to researchers at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

Pennsylvania's Department of State, which oversees elections, released an invitation for bid for new voting systems last week, and counties will be able to buy voting machines that meet the department's certification requirements.

The department cannot necessarily force a county to buy new voting machines but, at some point, the department will decertify the voting systems currently in use, it said Thursday.

Still, the agency does not plan to decertify the current machines until new ones are in place, the agency said.

To help buy machines, Pennsylvania is getting $13.5 million from Congress' recent appropriation of $380 million for election security, Wolf's administration said.

The Department of State said it is too early to project a total cost, because it will depend on negotiated discounts, lease terms, financing options and other factors.